Monday, February 23, 2009

Arshavin's debut

In a word, the Arsenal performance on Saturday as they hosted Sunderland ... well, it was flat. And it's too bad, I hadn't sensed that much emotion around the team in a while. Back to, I'd reckon, the Boxing Day match against Villa. Oh how things could have been different if Gallas had his head on in that one. Do you recall how terrible he was heading back as Villa nabbed two to get a draw? And now, as I talk about the subtle maturity coursing its way through the team (a thought I'll hold tightly to, by the way), one of the major pieces of that so-called growth spurt has indeed been William Gallas. Putting himself on display for a move or not, the now former captain has put his head down and played some solid football in the last month.

At any rate, plugging in for the match on Saturday how delighted - if not surprised - was I to see new signing Andrei Arshavin in the starting line-up!? Although, I couldn't have expected too much from him. It's been well accounted at this point but the 27 year old hasn't had a competitive match since Zenit's Champions League draw against Real Madrid in November. Quite rightly though, I, for my part, was salivating to see him out there, to see him move and to see how the others would be able to converse with him on the pitch. Sadly, the audition didn't go too well. And I'm not talking about his performance or the final result.

Andrei was a delight. No two ways around it. Those of us who were first introduced to him during the European Championships last year remember well how we sat with rapt attention, afraid to miss even a second of creation or imagination. Make no mistake, I felt just the same emotions on Saturday, and noticed it on the faces of many others who came out for the event. The problem was that he seemed to be two ideas ahead of his peers at several instances. Andrei would move the ball, fill the space, look for the next move and see an all-too-quick dissolution. Mostly at fault was current Gabber in Chief Nico Bendtner, who was slated the responsibility of holding the line on Andrei's side. I want him to succeed as much as anyone - he's an Arsenal player after all. Yet, as fellow Gooner Jamie quite rightly pointed out in a comment down below (scroll, baby, scroll!), the Dane has been well off his expected career track at this point. He's been given more of a chance and he's not quite taking it, is he? I can think of a couple of pointed instances in particular where the Russian Arshavin moved the ball to Bendtner, clearly expecting a bang-bang interchange, only to see the ball kick off of Nico's heels. Frustrating, to say the least.

Still, there's hope for the days to come. Arshavin had a deep eye for goal. He was quick, slippery and will fit in the Arsenal style quite well. That much is certain. The goal is to get everyone speaking at the same level of fluency - quickly.

Six points back of fourth place on February 23. The ticker, with 12 league games remaining, has well and truly started.

To close up here ... Big cheers to everyone who joined us at the pub for a full day of football during a full-on blizzard. No better place to be stuck than with a full Arsenal of booze and gobs of football on display for all. On two rocking hours of sleep, I was able to catch (with an assortment of pricks passing through for myriad matches) the Chelski v. Aston Villa match at 6:30 a.m., Arsenal v. Sunderland at 9 a.m., Manchester United v. Blackburn at 11:30 a.m. and Espanyol v. Barcelona at 1:30 p.m. Take that Jintao.

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